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Ask the experts: Airport assistance

Our panel offers advice on getting special assistance in airports

Ask the experts: Airport assistance
Airport assistance. Image: Alamy

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QMy wife has recently had a hip replacement operation and struggles to walk for long distances or stand for a long time. We want to book a holiday but are worried about getting around the airport and on the plane. We’ve never booked special assistance with an airline before. How do we go about it, and how does it work?

david_whitleyDavid Whitley, regular contributor: What special assistance entails varies by destination and, occasionally, airline. But for all EU destinations plus Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, the process is similar. It needs to be requested through the airline, not necessarily at the time of booking but at least 48 hours in advance. This can usually be done online, but if not (or if there are unusual requests), sort it out by phone. Googling the airline name plus ‘special assistance’ will bring up the relevant pages and numbers.

It’s the airport that’s responsible for providing the help, though. This includes transportation via wheelchair or buggy from the airport entry point — taxi ranks and train stations all have call buttons — through security and passport control and, if needed, onto the plane and into the seat. There will also be help stowing and retrieving baggage, if necessary.

And, at the other end, the same happens in reverse. Sometimes it can mean getting through the airport much quicker; other times it can mean tiresome waiting around — but walking and standing is kept to zero, if need be.

Outside the EU, processes are less fixed but broadly similar for most destinations. The onus tends to be on the airline, so check with whoever you’re flying with.

Airlines usually insist that you must be able to lift yourself from your seat to the on-board wheelchair (if this is needed). Otherwise, you must travel with a companion who can aid you.

For further accessible travel information, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and ABTA have useful advice.  

Newly-launched Limitless Travel delves into accessibility at London hotels and attractions, but is due to expand to other destinations soon. Accessible Travel and Leisure, meanwhile, is a specialist travel agency that vets destinations and accommodation with disabled travellers in mind.

Published in the June 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)